It's been said that Rockford Speedway can separate the 'men from the boys.' With its high banks and tight quarter mile set up, the famed northern Illinois facility has been known to humble some of the countries best racers from time to time. But also, it is a place where the drivers who can win there are the drivers who can win anywhere.
It's safe to say you can add Ross Kenseth to the second category.
Saturday night, the 16 year old driver not only set the track record in time trials, but proceeded to march through the field and claim the checkered flag in the 18th running of the All Star 100, which was also his first ever ASA Late Model Series North Division victory.
Starting the race from the eighth spot, Kenseth would have to work to get to the front, and work around some tough cars along the way. Included in that, was a front row complete with ASALMS top dog Joey King and Rockford ace Ryan Carlson. The two leaders would speed away from the field with King moving around Carlson for the top spot and pacing the early laps. Carlson would stay on Kings bumper, pressuring the second year Late Model driver all the way. King would lose control of his racer on lap 18, however, handing the lead back to Carlson, and ending the battle.
Carlson would claim the lead and look stellar on the restart, bringing Malta, Illinois driver Troy Hintzsche with him. Within ten laps of the restart, Hintzsche would be at the back bumper of Carlson, pressuring him for the top spot. As the lead battle heated up, the battle for the ASALMS North points lead took a turn as well. Series point's leader Chris Eggleston and Iowa driver Griffin McGrath would tangle in turn tow, sending the 'Colorado Kid' into the infield grass, and bringing out the yellow flag. Eggleston would have to head to the pit area to make repairs to his vehicle and restart from the rear of the field.
On the restart on lap 28, Carlson would move away from Hintzsche and race away from the field. Behind the leaders, an intense battle for fourth developed between Kenseth and series Rookie of the Year point's leader Josh Nelms. The two drivers would exchange paint and positions, with Nelms holding the fourth spot until later in the race.
Things were running smoothly for the leader and the field until lap 52, when it all 'broke loose.' The chaos began in turn 4, as Wisconsin's Brent Brevak made hard contact with the outside retaining wall. As Brevaks' car came down the track, former leader King would clip the left rear, ruining his right front. As King and Brevak collided, laps cars behind the incident checked up, and as the checked up, leader Carlson approached the scene quickly with no escape route and got airborne. Carlson's car would launch off the rear of Canadian driver Jordan Sims' racer and into the billboards in turn three and land violently, but thankfully upright on the speedway.
Carlson would be transferred to a local medical center, complaining of back and neck pain. He was, however, awake and alert and moving his extremities.
With that bizarre sequence of events, the race would lose six cars in total and inherit a new leader. Suddenly, it was Hintzsche pacing the field and pursuing his first ever ASALMS feature win. With former Rockford Rookie of the Year Nelms behind Hintzsche, the lead battle got intense quickly. Only five laps into the restart, the two drivers would get together, sending Hintzsche spinning and sending Nelms to the tail. On the ensuing restart, suddenly it was Kenseth knocking on the door for the top spot. In only a lap and a half, Kenseth would go from second on the restart, to the leader of the race as the field turned the 58th circuit.
With Kenseth, in the lead, Hintzsche began to fall back, and mechanical woes eventually sent the Mopar powered car of Hintzsche to the pits. McGrath would inherit second place, with defending Series Champion Eddie Hoffman and Illinois youngster Michael Bilderback tussling for third. Bilderback would outfox the wily Hoffman, and move his car behind McGrath. By lap 72, Bilderback would find himself in second.
However, the race would stay green for the final 42 laps, and Kenseth was too much for the rest of the pack, hitting the finish line three and a half seconds ahead of Bilderback. The third generation driver would pull into victory lane and be very gracious upon his exit from the car.
“I gotta thank my mom, dad, grandpa. Joe from Pathfinder Chassis and all my guys,' said Kenseth. 'This car was amazing all day,” he said. “This is my first ASA Late Model Series win, and doing it at Rockford…this is a special day.”
Bilderback would end up in second, and be the event's hard charger. The South Beloit, Illinois driver started the 100 lapper in the 12th position, and worked his way up ten spots near the front.
“Yeah, it was definitely a good run for us, starting 12th,' said Bilderback. 'I thought we had a better car in qualifying, but this motor in here is pretty old and you know, we got what we could get and starting 12th and finishing second, we're alright with that,' he stated. 'This is our first Top 3 in the ASA Late Model Series so, we're definitely happy.”
Bilderback's career best run was also on his home track, which made the effort, along with the late night put in by his crew after a race the previous night in central Wisconsin, well worth it.
“We got home at 2 AM, switched (the car) over all morning and got here just in time, and to do this at home, is pretty cool.”
Hoffman, would charge through the field and take third spot, closing the gap between he and points leader Eggleston, who would finish 7th, the first car one lap down.
Griffin McGrath would nurse his racecar home to a solid fourth place run, and local favorite Tim Sargent would hold off the late-race advances of Josh Nelms to capture 5th spot.
All Star 100
Rockford (IL) Speedway
Position Number Name Laps
1. #25 Ross Kenseth (100) 2. #2 Michael Bilderback (100) 3. #8 Eddie Hoffman (100) 4. #64 Griffin McGrath (100) 5. #11 Tim Sargent (100) 7. #22 Chris Eggleston (99) 8. #99 Jordan Sims (99) 9. #63 Brad Plunkett (99) 10. #17 Tanner Berryhill (80) 11. #34 Troy Hintzsche (76) 12. #39 Ryan Carlson (52) 13. #88 Trent Snyder (52) 14. #31 Brent Brevak (52) 15. #29 Joey King (52) 16. #90 Becca Kasten (52) 17. #72 Tom Woodin (3)
Leaders: Carlson (pole…19-52), King (1-18), Hintzsche ( 53-57), Kenseth (58-100)
Yellows: L 18, L 28, L 52, L 57
Fast Qualifier: Ross Kenseth (13.260 NTR)